I think two dozen or so people have sent me questions asking something similar to this, so here is Rob Cosman responding better than I could.
Q: If someone wanted to become a professional woodworker building furniture; what steps would you recommend for that person? And should I go to an art school for this?
A: Hi Wes, my first reaction is “are you kidding”? Sorry but that was pain from the past resurfacing. I dont think this is doable today. You probably dont want to hear that but better now than later. Here is what you need to consider;
1-who is going to buy custom made furniture? We have a big chunk of our population that dont even know boards come from trees, I mean there is no appreciation for wood.
2-as a one man shop you have to do it all, procure materials, maintain the shop and equipment, do the book work, design the furniture, build the furniture, finish the furniture and usually deliver the furniture. The biggest task is finding the customers. We go into this field thinking about all the people we know that have asked us to build something for them, wow, that will keep us busy for a long time. Well, not all of them will come thru, final price has a lot to do with that, you will burn thru that work before you know it and then comes the task of how do I advertise, how much to spend and where to spend it.
3-What are your monthly needs in terms of $$? If you have children you need to sharpen your pencil on this carefully. They need to eat, clothes, school supplies, sports equipment, dentist, doctor recreation, it all adds up!
4-Insurance, on the shop, vehicles, liability on your work, disability insurance, it never seems to end.
5-Back to #2, every additional task takes you away from what you want to be doing, building at the bench. When I started that meant starting the day at 8 and usually being back in the shop after supper and working till midnight or later. All of this had to be done to get the amount of needed bench time since prime time was so often taken up by the tasks that can only get done during the 8 to 5 period.
6-How do you price your work. This is where most of us fail miserably, I am at the top of that list. You price the work at a level you think will be accepted by the customer all the while dealing with the fear that if they dont take it you are not sure what and when something else will come along. In my case that usually meant breaking even on the materials and shop costs leaving nothing for me. We lived on the charity of family for a long time though I was working six days a week.
I will end it here since this is all so negative. What you’re reading is from my experience, living in a small town at the far reaches of Canada. Sad news is it is the same story for my woodworking friends living in big metro areas of both Canada, US and UK. If you saw what most of them make in a year after several years in the business with solid reputations and a fantastic resume you would be shocked and probably saddened. This is not a lucrative or even a decent paying career. Rewarding in many ways but if you have to rely on it to pay the bills you best have a great plan “B”. My wife was looking over my shoulder as I was writing this and mumbled “tell him to marry a millionaire”! So the joke is, How do you make a million building custom furniture? Start with a billion!
Ask around and try to get a positive take to balance out what I said, let me know how you do.
Final question on Art school. The most important aspect of this venture is knowing how to run your business and art school is not going to do that. I have a friend in the business that will no longer teach at certain schools because of his insistance on teaching the painful part of what you have to do on the business side. The school saw this as a negative but my friend saw it a critical in guiding these young hopefulls as they venture into the market. You have to know how to manage your dollar. I studied business administration in university, minored in it next to my industial arts major and furniture design minor. With the exception of knowing how to do an income statement I can’t say any of the rest of it was worth the time. The ideal situation would be to apprentice with someone that would teach you all the “real” stuff you have to learn. This way you would be able to make a much more informed decision about doing this for a business. My workshops are geared to the hobbist that wants to make furniture for fun and as Laurence says, therapy! The only business information I could give would be what “not” to do.
Sorry for the rant but I would rather be honest.